Over the last two decades, China’s health issues have become more similar to those seen in the USA, UK and other developed nations, says a new studied published in The Lancet. The authors added that many health improvements have been achieved in China.

From 1990 to 2010 China saw an increase in life expectancy and a reduction in the incidence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and lower respiratory infections.

However, the success comes at the same time as risk factors and non-communicable diseases increase – such as smoking and high blood pressure.

The analysis was carried out by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Peking Union Medical College and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

Researchers compared the health problems in China to countries in the G20.

The report revealed that the health changes in China are now similar to those found in the US, UK, or Australia.

For example, in 2010 the rate of premature mortality in China was lower than all other emerging countries in the G20, and only marginally higher than the US.

Back in 1990, the health profile of China matched countries like Vietnam or Iraq.

However, according to the data gathered from Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2010 (GBD), the main causes of health loss in 2010 were COPD, low back pain, ischemic heart disease, stroke, and road injury.

Female smoking prevalence in China is one of the lowest in the world, but Chinese men have one of the highest rates (52%).

Dr. Gonghuan Yang, professor at Peking Union Medical College and a joint lead author of the China GBD paper, said that “tobacco is one of the top three risk factors in China and deaths attributable to its use have increased by almost 30% since 1990. Aggressive tobacco control measures will be an important public health effort.”

So far seven cities in China, the largest consumer of tobacco worldwide, are taking steps to ban smoking in workplaces and public venues.

The leading risk factors in China in 2010 included:

Pollution over the great wall
Pollution seen from the Great Wall of China. One of the main risk factors in 2010.

The proportion of non-communicable disease has increased as well as those caused by diet and individual behaviors. In addition, the number of people in China living with dementia has more than doubled over the past 20 years, according to a previous study published in The Lancet.

Dr. Yu Wang, director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and a joint lead author of the China GBD paper, said:

“Urbanization and aging are two of the driving forces behind the rise of non-communicable disease. The number of deaths from NCDs has grown, along with the rates of diabetes, lung cancer, and ischemic heart disease.”

The rate of premature mortality from breast cancer among Chinese women was lower than all the high-income countries studied except for two.

Child mortality dropped by 80%, from 1 million deaths in 1990, to only 213,000 in 2010. Since 1990, the rate of deaths among children under 5, due to diarrhea and lower respiratory infections, has dropped by over 90%.

In addition, drug use disorders among people aged 20 to 24 has increased by 38% globally, but in China there’s been a decline of 5%.

Haidong Wang, one of the authors of the paper and assistant professor of global health at IHME, said:

“Between 1990 and 2010, life expectancy at birth in China increased from 69.3 years to 75.7 years. Behind this improvement is one of most successful stories in reducing child mortality. Over the same period, child mortality rate has been declining at about 6% annually and this improvement has even been sped up in the most recent decade.”

Despite progress in some areas, the rates of HIV/AIDS are rising rapidly in China’s general population, according to new figures released on Wednesday by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

AIDS was the top fatal infection among the Chinese in 2008, followed by TB, rabies, and hepatitis

IHME Director, Dr. Christopher Murray, said that the achievements China has made in reducing deaths from certain diseases are remarkable though. Concluding that the accomplishments should serve as an example for other developing countries.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist